I’ve been burned many times by thinking that the movies I watched as a kid are fun and cute, when they are actually really scary or surprisingly sexual. I am no prude, but I do find it unnecessary to let my children watch a movie about a man who likes to impale camp counselors when they could be watching Disney’s Frozen. Again.
PG-13 was introduced in July of 1984 after complaints were made about movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins being too scary to be rated PG. This explains why many of us were watching Airplane! and Poltergeist by the time we were learning our times tables.
Here are eight movies that our parents let us watch as kids growing up in the ’80s, when parenting wasn’t a competition to raise the most successful, well-adjusted children in the world. We watched a lot of movies that we probably shouldn’t have, and we lived to tell the stories.
I thought we would have a really fun family night, so I played this classic that is near and dear to my heart. My children are 7 and 10, and I assumed that they would think Big was adorable with the storyline of a small boy wishing away his childhood and getting a man’s body. What I remember most about the movie is Tom Hanks working for a toy store and playing “Chopsticks” on a floor piano in FAO Schwarz—innocent stuff. I was mid-popcorn bite watching the movie with the kids when the F-bomb came, reverberating through the house. We then all squirmed uncomfortably in our seats during the part where the man was touching the women’s breasts (what is he doing Mommy?). Turns out, there is a lot of sexual innuendo throughout the movie, along with drinking and smoking. After the stress of showing my children Big for Friday night movie night, I was ready for a drink and a smoke myself.
If you want your 7-year-old to never go in the ocean again, show them the movie about the man-eating, oversized great white shark that we all watched as children in the ’80s. I was wise enough to pass on showing my children the PG-rated Jaws because I want to be able to go to the beach and have a good time swimming in the ocean with them. Most of us who grew up in the ’80s have used the famous line by Roy Scheider: “You’re going to need a bigger boat,” which was not scripted, but improvised. One of the most infamous scenes in the movie is the monologue by the character Quint, who is intoxicated while recounting the gory details of the USS Indianapolis that sank. A movie classic during my childhood now seems radical now for our current generation of sheltered children.
Take all the things that scare the shit out of kids and cram it into one VHS tape and then give it a PG rating and you have Poltergeist. If you watch this movie as a child, it will haunt you for the rest of your life with the scenes about possessed trees and a terrifying clown doll that pulls kids under the bed. You may not want your kids to see the part where a man hallucinates and ends up ripping his face off. The parents in the movie, Diane and Steve, are recreational marijuana users, and in one scene they are not only smoking joints, but Diane brings out her cigar box of drug paraphernalia and rolls one right in bed. Steve starts in with some antics about his younger days and Diane laughs at it like it is a skit from a Chris Farley movie because she is higher than a kite. I think I will pass on showing this movie to my kids—ever.
When I was in elementary school, my friend and I used to watch Goonies over and over again because we thought it was, like, totally hilarious when one of the kids says “HOLY SHIT.” We also enjoyed being scared shitless by the villain who tries to puree one of the kid’s hand in the blender while he cries and screams for mercy. I guess we were not very sensitive children. But Goonies is so much more inappropriate than that. There is the whole ceramic penis incident, where the penis falls off a statue and then is glued back on upside down so it looks like the statue has an erection. The sexual innuendo is enough to make any mom blush—boys looking up girls’ skirts and comments about “makin’ it” with girls. The entire movie, in fact, is a series of unfortunate events that end in injury or death. The most disturbing character is the one with a deformed face who was said to be that way because he was dropped as a baby. I would have to give my Generation Z kids some heavy sedatives before I showed those sensitive creatures a movie so grotesque (and entertaining).
5. Friday the 13th
I am not exaggerating when I say that this movie was the feature presentation at every slumber party during elementary school. If you look on Common Sense Media, the website that rates movies’ appropriateness for families, it says, “Beware of this infamous, sadistic slasher film” and “age 18+” in bold letters. The camp counselors are having sex or getting stoned during those few times they aren’t getting their throats slashed. This movie was almost rated X—remember the X rating for things like porn? I have no idea why the parents of all my friends let us watch a nearly X-rated movie.
6. Tom and Jerry
As a small child, I thought it was hilarious when Tom and Jerry would brutalize each other repeatedly with knives, guns and other weapons of mass cat and mouse destruction. They would light up a smoke when they weren’t hitting each other over the head with pots and pans. A few years ago, I came across Tom and Jerry on television, and I told the kids they had to watch this great show that was my favorite when I was a kid. They were mildly amused by the gruesome acts of violence, but I could tell they felt more comfortable with DJ Lance Rock and his furry friends on Yo Gabba Gabba!
It took me years to figure out that Ms. Hannigan was a drunk, which is why she was always slurring her words and stumbling around the orphanage like a fool, trying to get Daddy Warbucks to sleep with her. The movie is traumatizing, like when Annie climbs up a ladder that seems as tall as the Empire State Building while being chased by a criminal who wants to kill her. I have not seen the new version of Annie, but I would bet my bottom dollar that the ending has been changed.
Who are you going to call? Anyone who was born in the ’80s and does not know this famous slogan was definitely living in a bubble. My favorite part was when one of the Ghostbusters receives oral sex from a ghost. Keeping it real classy, ’80s movies. In another scene, a possessed woman writhes her body around and says, “I want you inside me.” I can hear it now—”Why does she want him inside of her, Mommy?” Ghostbusters was released in 1984, just squeaking by that PG-13 rating.
I know that kids will learn about these things eventually. There are life lessons in some of these television shows and movies, and maybe we shouldn’t sugarcoat everything for our kids so that by the time they go to college they don’t know about the real world. Still, SpongeBob and cohorts are rude assholes and Friday the 13th and Poltergeist are the stuff of nightmares, and I like my sleep. So maybe not just yet.